Black lives matter. This three-word phrase is so powerful. It evokes powerful hopes and powerful fears. Some see this phrase as strongly asserting value to lives that have been historically devalued. Others see this phrase as strongly urging violent attacks on law enforcement. And many hold various positions in between. "Black lives matter" is a powerful phrase that expresses a powerful concept.
Why is this simple three-word phrase so controversial? Let’s start with the basic question: Do Black lives matter? Do Black lives matter as much as White lives? If we can rationally respond to these questions, perhaps we can discuss the issues that embroil law enforcement and the Black community. We are all entitled to our opinions. We are not entitled to our own facts. Can we deal with the facts? "Black lives matter" is a powerful concept.
Is it a fact that slavery existed in this country and its predecessor colonies for hundreds of years? I believe the facts establish that enslavement of Africans in America started in the early 1600s and ended in December of 1865 with ratification of the 13th Amendment. Is it a fact that during slavery, a slave’s life did not matter as much as the life of a White master, his family and other Whites? "Black lives matter" is a powerful phrase.
Is it a fact that slavery placed Whites in higher positions and Blacks in lower positions? Is it a fact that many states had laws that explicitly illustrated that Whites were superior in every way and Blacks were subordinate in every way? The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in the Dred Scott decision that Black people, whether slave or free, had no rights. For instance, the Alabama Slave Code stated that if a White person killed an enslaved Black person in the process of correcting them, nothing could be done. On the other hand, if a enslaved Black person just hit the master, his spouse or their children, then he/she must be put to death. Do these facts not establish that Black lives did not matter as much as White lives during this time? "Black lives matter" is a powerful concept.
Is it a fact that during segregation, Whites were considered so superior that they could not socialize with Blacks? On the other hand, Black people were considered so inferior that they must not use the same restrooms, drink from the same water fountain, eat in the same restaurants, go to the same schools, ride in the same area of public transportation, and so on. Is it a fact that laws on the books made crimes of such activities? Would you agree that during this time, Black lives mattered less than White lives? "Black lives matter" is a powerful phrase.
Is it a fact that during segregation, there were more than 4,000 known lynchings of Black people, mostly Black men? Is it a fact that law enforcement did not prosecute the perpetrators of these lynchings even though many were performed in public? Is it a fact that our governments did not do anything to prevent the lynchings? Is it a fact that many of these lynchings were based upon allegations that a Black man said or did something to a White person? I believe these are well established facts. Can we agree that during this time, Black lives mattered less than White lives? "Black lives matter" is a powerful concept.
I know that some will say that these activities happened at least decades ago in some instances and centuries ago in others. Is it a fact that some perceptions, feelings, etc. pass down through generations? Is it a fact that some things that happen in our own families, communities and people continue down through generations? Is it a fact that certain feelings between the South and North have existed since the Civil War? The Civil War ended 151 years ago and some of those feelings still exist. That’s at least five generations. If feelings and perceptions involving the Civil War can pass down through five generations, why can’t feelings and perceptions generated by slavery, segregation and Jim Crow pass down through generations? "Black lives matter" is a powerful phrase.
Blacks are 30 percent more likely to be stopped by law enforcement than Whites. Black men are two and a half times more likely to be killed by law enforcement. Blacks receive longer sentences than Whites for the same crimes. Five times as many Whites use drugs as Blacks, but Blacks are sent to prison for drug offenses at 10 times the rate of Whites. Blacks make up 12 percent of the total population of drug users but 50 percent of people in state prisons for drug offenses. Whites are also more likely to deal drugs than Blacks, yet Blacks are far more likely to be arrested and imprisoned for this crime. I know that some will say greater Black imprisonment represents greater criminal activities by Blacks. That very position, when statistics demonstrate otherwise, suggests that Black lives matter less than White lives. "Black lives matter" is a powerful concept.
If Black lives do not matter as much as White lives, isn’t it our duty to remind the rest of us that Black lives do matter? What’s wrong with some saying that Black lives matter when historically they have not mattered as much as White lives? Would saying "All Lives Matter" address this profound problem rooted in slavery and segregation and imbedded in every institution from churches to schools to law enforcement? "Black lives matter" is a powerful concept.
Should we cease stating our painful truth because it makes others uncomfortable? Isn't this especially true when that very problem has caused great pain for generations? The problem is Black lives have not mattered and that causes pain for us all. "Black lives matter" is a powerful concept that expresses powerful and fearful truths.
EPILOGUE – I believe that the phrase "Black lives matter" is so powerful because it symbolizes in three words a very painful truth imbedded in the very foundation of this country. This truth runs so contrary America’s stated ideals that we strongly reject it or we strongly embrace it.